As the number of Union wounded and ill mounted, Alexandria's public building, churches, and even private homes were pressed into service as military hospitals. At least twenty of Alexandria's largest buildings were transformed into hospitals during the war. In January 1861, the U.S. Government took possession of Alexandria's Methodist Episcopal South church on Washington Street for use as a hospital. Like most other Alexandria churches, the Southern Methodist congregation was considered to be "secesh," so Union authorities had no qualms about seizing it.
|Photo of the Methodist Church on South Washington Street in Alexandria when it was being used as a U.S. Military Hospital, circa 1862. The cornerstone was laid on September 12, 1840 and the building was completed in 1852.|
A prewar schism within the Methodist church over slavery had led many southern Methodists to withdraw from the national body in 1845 and form the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. A new congregation was established in Alexandria and a building-- whose sanctuary could seat over 1,000 parishioners-- was built in on the west side of South Washington Street just south of King Street.
The Methodist Church hospital was listed as a branch of the 2nd Division U.S. General Hospital. In his diary, Isaac Lyman Taylor, a soldier in the 1rst Minnesota Volunteers, described the hospital as "large, neat & has but few patients-- a very good place for a sick man." In addition to the hospital ward housed in the sanctuary, the church's first floor reputedly was used a stable.
|Receipt issued by Acting Asst. Surgeon A. McWilliams, U.S. Army, for medicines, hospital stores and bedding supplied the Methodist Church Hospital in Alexandria on May 11, 1864. (Courtesy American Civil War Surgical Antiques)|
After the war, the building was returned to its congregants who found considerable caused by its wartime hospital use. The congregation pressed claims to the federal government for reimbursal for damaged caused to the building. This claim remained unpaid until 1915 when the U.S. Government paid $3,680 to the congregation for damage caused during the Civil War.
|Modern view of the Methodist South Church on Washington Street in Alexandria. (Photo by author)|
The church, now known as Washington Street United Methodist Church, still stands, though its front facade looks strikingly different from its mid-19th century appearance. A major 1875-76 renovation altered the front of the building from Greek Revival to a Gothic style. A 1900 building renovation included removal of the old plaster ceilings and replacement with modern steel and the installation of stained, glass windows.
Hurst, Harold W. Alexandria on the Potomac: The Portrait of An Antebellum Community. University Press of America, 1991.
Washington National Republican, January 28, 1861.
"Dedication of Remodelled Methodist Episcopal Church," Washington Post, Jan 29, 1900.
Wolf, Hazel C., ed. "Campaigning with the First Minnesota, A Civil War Diary."